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How many of these 8 heart-healthy habits are part of your daily routine?

Stepfanie Romine
for San Juan Regional Medical Center
Every day is the perfect time to give a little extra TLC to your heart, lungs and cardiovascular health.

February is American Heart Month, the perfect time to give a little extra TLC to your heart, lungs and cardiovascular health. Heart disease is responsible for one in four deaths in the US each year, so knowing how to maintain your heart health — and improve it — can go a long way at any age.

“Heart disease is related to several lifestyle risk factors— not just a person’s age,” said Dr. Rachel Chaney, MD, a board-certified cardiologist and internal medicine specialist at San Juan Health Partners Specialty Services. “Our lifestyle and habits throughout our lifetime can prevent or contribute to cardiovascular disease and atherosclerosis, the medical term for plaque build-up in our vessels. It’s never too late to improve your heart health.”

Dr. Rachel Chaney, MD, a board-certified cardiologist and internal medicine specialist at San Juan Health Partners Specialty Services.

Taking care of your ticker can be a part of your daily routine — in fact; you might already be protecting your heart through diet, exercise and more. Here are a few simple ways you can maintain heart health.

  1. Quit smoking (and vaping) for good. Tobacco use (including smokeless products) can harm heart health by raising blood pressure, damaging the heart and blood vessels and reducing your body’s ability to transport oxygen via the blood. But, quitting can help reverse this damage. If you need help with your tobacco habits, talk to your doctor.
  2. Eat a heart-healthy diet. Diets high in saturated fats, sodium and processed foods can contribute to various health issues, including cardiovascular disease. Instead, eat a Mediterranean style diet or one that’s heavy on the plants. That means plenty of vegetables and fruits, as well as legumes, nuts, seeds and more. You don’t have to cut out all the “good stuff” — just make sure that your plate is mostly filled with plants at every meal. The fiber that’s only found in them is uniquely beneficial for managing cholesterol levels, as well as heart and digestive health.
  3. Get moving. Especially during COVID-19, staying active can be a challenge. The CDC recommends that adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity per week (a little more than 20 minutes a day). You don’t need to go all-out. “Moderate” exercise means you can still chat with a friend while working out. Try: Walking with your family after dinner, hiking through a local park or taking an online yoga class. You can also divide up that goal if you don’t have 20 consecutive minutes some days.
  4. Drink plenty of H20. Even mild dehydration can strain the heart, forcing it to work harder. Don’t wait until you’re thirsty to sip on water. Men should aim for 15.5 cups while women should drink 11.5 cups, but you may need more if you’re active or live in a dry climate (like New Mexico).
  5. Get regular check-ups. A routine visit with a primary care doctor can help you identify issues before they interfere with your daily life. A regular check-up will provide valuable info about your blood pressure, cholesterol levels and blood sugar levels. “An annual visit with your family doctor can go a long way in helping maintain a healthy heart,” said Dr. Chaney. “And if there is a problem, they can refer you to a cardiologist for further testing and a treatment plan.”
  6. Stay in control of your health conditions. Diabetes, hypertension (high blood pressure) or elevated cholesterol levels can elevate your risk of developing heart disease. If you have one or more of those conditions, talk to your doctor regularly to keep tabs on your health. And if you are prescribed medication, take it as directed for best results and talk to your doctor if that’s a struggle.
  7. Deal with stress. Your body knows when you’re stressed — and it can impact your heart as much as your mind over time. A healthy diet, regular exercise and strong social connections can all help your heart as well as your stress levels. Staying calm is good for your blood pressure and more. 
  8. Don’t go it alone. Emotional health and heart health are connected. Especially in the last year, staying in touch with loved ones is challenging. Find ways to reach out virtually, meet with a friend or two in a safe, socially distanced way or meet up for an outdoor workout.

Dr. Chaney and the group of specialists at San Juan Health Partners Specialty Services are here for you. Schedule an appointment today by calling 970.444.0260. San Juan Health Partners Specialty Services is located at 1485 Florida Road, Suite A 103, Durango, CO 81301. Open Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.  

Members of the editorial and news staff of the USA TODAY Network were not involved in the creation of this content.